"The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire" by Christopher Barzak
Stories with religious themes are extremely difficult to write well; not just because religion is an emotional affair for many people, but also because many stories appearing in Christian markets are quite simplistic, reducing the world's complexity to stark good vs. evil. Which is a pity, since Judeo-Christian mythology can be as luxurious and complex as any other. Christopher Barzak's "The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire" demonstrates it well.
The plot of the story is rather straightforward—the boy is born wrapped in barbed wire, costing his mother her life. He's an outcast, as could be expected from his peculiar deformity, and lives a quiet life with his beekeeper father. When the preacher comes to town, the titular boy discovers Jesus and his crown of thorns; he cannot help but notice the striking similarity between his own predicament and that of Jesus.
Mr. Barzak does an admirable job showing the discovery of faith through Boy's naïve eyes, and he manages to create just the right balance between blasphemy and devotion, never tipping too far to either side. Overall, this story showed great balance between Christian symbolism (The Boy, crown of thorns), and more ancient Judaic and Hellenic tradition (sun, bees, honey.) The latter was especially well handled, since bees represent so many different concepts—nature, death, soul… And amazingly, all of them fit this story. One cannot help but think of the Boy's dead mother as Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld and the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of fertility. (On a side note, there is a nonfiction article in this issue of TESJoMA on symbolism of milk, bread and honey, well worth reading.)
When the boy meets the preacher's daughter, the things develop predictably, and yet surprisingly. The theme of suffering and pain as the way to beauty is weaved throughout this story, and culminates in the ending as breathtaking as the rest of the story. There's never a false note, and one can spend hours unraveling the complex knot of symbolism and religious imagery.